Visiting the Southwest Conference to watch basketball is like going to France's Bordeaux region for beers. This year's SWC hoop action has everyone looking forward to spring football. "Our conference simply isn't very strong," says SWC spokesman Charlie Fisk. "We're having an off year."
When Houston's head coach for the last 30 years, Guy Lewis, announced on Jan. 21 that he would retire following this season, the Cougars, winless in the SWC and 8-7 overall at that point, finally woke up. They won three of their next four games, starting with a 76-69 win over conference-leading Texas A & M.
Arkansas needs just such a turnabout. Picked in the preseason to dominate the SWC, the Razorbacks are 2-7 in league play, 10-10 overall. Under coach Nolan Richardson, who arrived fresh from Tulsa this season with new ideas about up-tempo offense, the Hogs have looked dazed and confused. Richardson, who has substituted madly in search of a guard combination, lost starting center Andrew Lang for two weeks to a freak injury. Following a two-point loss on Jan. 11 to Texas Tech, Lang's mother had burst into the Razorbacks' dressing room to give her 6'11" son a tongue-lashing. Flustered, the sophomore punched a locker, fracturing a bone in his right hand.
After Arkansas was routed 81-67 Wednesday at Texas A&M, much was made of the maroon blazer Richardson had worn, maroon being one of A & M's team colors. As the Aggies built 23-5, then 35-12 first-half leads, Reveille, A & M's excitable mascot collie, yapped incessantly. The Aggie pep band, 100 pieces strong, made the floorboards vibrate. Just before the second half Richardson took a Frisbee to the back of the head. A & M coach Shelby Metcalf took the mike and implored fans to desist, then added, "But yell like hell for us."
On Saturday, Arkansas lost to SMU 90-80. Richardson, at wit's end, was ejected for the first time in his 22-year coaching career.
After a team meeting during which the players vowed to work harder and not let opposing crowds faze them, Arizona traveled to Washington and upended the Huskies, 70-57. Arizona pressured Washington into 37% shooting from the floor. "We forced almost every shot we took," said Husky coach Andy Russo after the upset. "I could hear groans from the crowd when we were getting ready to shoot, that's how bad it was."
The undefeated Team, always an endangered species come late January, was extinct by week's end as two upstarts from Virginia knocked off previously perfect North Carolina and Memphis State. "Obviously, we're deliriously happy," said Virginia coach Terry Holland after the Cavaliers' 86-73 home win over the Tar Heels on Thursday. The victory was Holland's first at Dean Smith's expense since 1982, when Ralph Sampson was a Virginia junior.
Upset had been in the air in Charlottesville, according to Cavalier center Olden Polynice. "In [communications] class," said Polynice, "I told [guard] Johnny Johnson I was nervous. He said, 'So am I, but I have this feeling.' I said, 'Yeah, I know what you mean.' " Polynice must have. Though he's listed at 6'11"—"I'm really 6'10", maybe 6'9�"," he says—Polynice had 19 points and 10 rebounds against a Tar Heel front line stocked with two 7-footers, Brad Daugherty and Warren Martin.